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ICANN hires weight-loss guru as vice president

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has quietly hired a new vice president with a very peculiar résumé.

Elad Levinson, a psychotherapist with a distinctly Buddhist bent who has previously specialized in weight loss, joined the organization in early January as Vice President for Organization Effectiveness.

He’s been on the payroll as a consultant since May 2010, according to his LinkedIn profile and other sources, but only joined ICANN as a full-time VP two months ago.

ICANN currently has only about a half dozen vice presidents. The most recent to be officially announced (pdf) was noted cryptographer Whitfield Diffie, now VP of information security.

Unlike Diffie, Levinson did not get an announcement when he joined ICANN. Two months after joining the organization, he’s still not even listed on the ICANN staff web page.

(UPDATE: As of last night he is listed on the web site. Possibly because somebody was tipped off I was writing this post.)

I’ve confirmed that he started work there at the start of the year, but I’m not entirely clear what his role is. He appears to be some kind of human resources consultant slash life coach.

He’s previously consulted for a number of California-based corporations.

I understand Levinson is based in the Silicon Valley office, which I believe has about a dozen employees and is located roughly 300 miles from ICANN’s headquarters in the Los Angeles suburb of Marina Del Rey, where the vast majority of its staff are based.

Levinson has described himself as the author of “several publications regarding the power of self awareness and the integration of western social psychology and Buddhist Psychology” and an advocate of “the use of mindfulness and Buddhist Psychology in its application to organization development, leadership practices, stress reduction and related problems, relationships and parenting.”

His LinkedIn profile, which erroneously refers to ICANN as the “Internet Corporation Assigning Numbers and Naming”, says:

My goals are to bring the arts of relationship building and creation-intention generation to the science of causing tangible, factual results that increase shareholder value and develop highly adaptable cultures supporting the best in human spirit and actions.

The same profile discloses that Levinson has founded or co-founded at least four organizations: Noble Purpose Consulting, Pounds For Poverty, Lose Weight Mindfully and Growth Sherpas.

He’s still listed as an employee on three of those. Noble Purpose’s domain resolves to a blank page.

Pounds For Poverty, with which he was apparently involved until at least June last year, is a California consultancy offering “practical solutions for difficulties with over eating, anxiety, and depression.”

Its web site suggests that the money fat Californians spend on over-eating would be better used fighting hunger elsewhere but, despite the name, it does not appear to be a poverty charity in the usual sense.

Archive.org’s most-recent capture of Noble Purpose, from 2009, reveals it had aims such as “supporting human being’s nobility of purpose on earth” and “insuring that the skills and knowledge necessary for your noble purpose reside internally”.

If you don’t understand what any of the above means, you’re not alone.

Wikipedia’s (poorly sourced) page on “organizational effectiveness” helpfully explains it is “the concept of how effective an organization is in achieving the outcomes the organization intends to produce” and “an abstract concept… basically impossible to measure.”

“Mindfulness” is a Buddhist teaching relating to meditation and focus that has found its way into Western psychology over the last few decades.

It’s not a huge secret that ICANN has issues, internally. Clearly somebody over there believes that some kind of consultant like Levinson is required at the VP level.

According to the Growth Sherpas web site, Levinson is “the one you turn to when you want help solving a thorny company-wide or people problem and want the solution to stick.”

Outsiders are generally more concerned with staffing issues such as the lack of resources to support policy development and compliance initiatives, which will both become even more important once the new top-level domains program kicks off.